Spoiler Warning: This takes place sometime after Phase 41 of the anime series Mobile Suit Gundam Seed, perhaps between Phases 41 and 42.
Author's Note: For those of you who read "Sleeping with the Enemy" and wondered where Dearka is... here you go.
Dearka Elthman considered himself a practical person.
He did things for simple clear-cut reasons, and he thought about things only in order to reach a conclusion.
Dearka had enlisted because his friends had, and because the Naturals needed to be taught a lesson. He had entered the Elite program because Yzak had, and because he had never been one to stay at the bottom of the food chain -- or even the middle -- when he could be on top. He had passed the program with flying colors because Councilman Elthman's only son would not fail at anything he applied himself to.
Yes, Dearka considered himself to be a practical person. But since he'd decided to join the Archangel, things had become... complicated.
It was, he reflected, all because he had made the same decision as Athrun Zala, damn it.
Dearka turned on his back and stared at the ceiling of his dorm room. He heard the sounds of his roommates playing some kind of card game through the curtain around his bed. At times he found himself missing his prison cell. At least he had had his own room then.
Athrun had been assigned to a different dorm room, which was fine with him. Just because a blue moon had come along and they had agreed with each other about something for once didn't mean that they got along any better than they had before.
The reason for that was obvious.
Athrun was an idiot, plain and simple. Dearka believed that even more now that he had met Athrun's OMNI -- excuse me, former OMNI -- friend, Kira Yamato. Dearka had been impressed at first, he had to admit. Freedom was a goddamn fine MS and Kira was a mean pilot. He had a natural (heh) talent for it that a greenhorn like he was just did not deserve. Out of the pilot's suit, though, Dearka was disappointed to find that Kira was just a stupid kid.
He was a first generation, too, he'd said, when Dearka had asked. Which meant he'd been raised by Naturals.
Now, Athrun wasn't all that great or anything, but even Dearka had to admit he had class. Dearka couldn't imagine where Athrun had met the snot-nosed klutzy Natural-raised kid, and he could imagine even less what Athrun saw in him -- ace pilot or no.
Even if you forgot about all that-- What kind of idiot shot at his buddy anyway? To think that Athrun had been fighting against his best friend all this time. Talk about stupidity. The guy probably thought of himself as some sort of tragic hero for it, too. Pfft.
Dearka flipped on his stomach and pulled his pillow over his head. God, he couldn't stand it. The future of this ship and of the war was in the hands of a pair of idiots. A pair of idiots and a shipful of Naturals. Dearka was glad he'd developed some faith since boarding the Archangel.
Speaking of idiots...
Dearka sighed, thinking about what had made him stay on the Archangel in the first place.
He turned, switching the visual background of his musings to the very blank wall.
Milly... She was a puzzle. Dearka wasn't sure how he felt about her.
He was attracted to her. He knew that. But she'd proved to be a dedicated (if not a particularly skilled) soldier, and whatever side the Archangel was on now, she wore an OMNI uniform. Dearka wasn't into the whole fall-in-love-with-the-enemy schtick, so mostly, he tried to keep his distance. Tried.
The girl confused him anyway. He didn't understand why she was so adamant about not blaming Athrun for killing her Natural boyfriend. She was obviously torn up by it, but she always tried to act like it didn't matter. When she bothered to talk to him, she kept telling Dearka to shut up and look at the big picture.
It seemed unnecessarily noble of her. Not to mention thoroughly pointless. Bitching a bit and slapping Athrun around if she wanted couldn't hurt 'the big picture' any that Dearka could see. On the other hand, Dearka couldn't help but feel impressed by it, like one of those tragic heroines from the old fairytales.
Sometimes he thought Milly was just another idiot.
But other times... he wondered if maybe he...
Dearka sat up, whipped aside the privacy curtain around his bunk, and leapt to the ground. The two guys in the bunk across from his shrank back in surprise. Dearka grinned. He liked to startle his roommates. It was easy to do. A Coordinator among Naturals was like a lion among housecats.
A quick scan of the room's occupants revealed that Brenning Falker wasn't among them.
Whether on orders or on his own initiative, Brenning had made it his personal duty to watch Dearka. Dearka had seen the big-eared shiny-eyed boy taking notes on Dearka's morning routine and had even caught him once looking through the computer records after Dearka had left the common table. That time, he'd only been looking up the basketball results from the inter-PLANT second preliminaries. After that incident, though, he'd made it a point to log into his ZAFT message account and visit weapons grade manufacturers every now and then.
Now, Dearka pulled out a notepad from his jacket pocket and made a show of skimming through the contents. Before replacing the notepad, he let drop a page filled meticulously with a chain of squared primary numbers. Feigning obliviousness, he walked out of the room. He chuckled to himself as he imagined Brenning's face when he got ahold of the page.
It'd be easy to assume from the exaggeratedly opaque message that the two Klueze squad pilots on the ship were communicating in some sort of code. As a master touch, Dearka had even gotten Athrun's fingerprints on it yesterday by 'accidentally' dropping it in front of him.
Dearka whistled to himself down the hall. Brenning was about the only entertainment of the human variety Dearka had on this ship. He made the most of it.
Caught up in his malicious fantasies of the boy's panicked face, Dearka turned the corner at the T-intersection and ran right into the back of a large living obstacle.
"Hey, watch it!" Dearka put a hand to his nose, more humiliated than hurt.
His obstacle turned and looked down and Dearka groaned.
Mwu La Fllaga. The so-called Hawk of Endymion. Like the Strike pilot, he wasn't much to look at in person. He was marked by a goofy grin and pretty-boy posturing. Now, he smiled in a roguish way. "Hi, there. Where are you headed?"
Dearka shrugged. He didn't want to be rude to the Lieutenant Commander. Growing up in outer space made you value your place in a structure that contained an atmosphere. "I was heading up to check on Buster," he replied, edging around to continue down the hall. He was stopped by a hand on his collar.
"Hold up, I'll come with you."
La Fllaga winked at the Private he'd been chatting with and made some suave goodbye or other before turning back to Dearka.
Dearka rolled his eyes.
Commander Klueze had also done the buddy thing to a degree, but he'd always kept his distance just enough to let you feel that you were actually talking to a superior. Dearka liked that feeling, like Klueze was letting them in on a conversation that would normally be between officers, like he was genuinely making time to interact with his elite troops.
Not like this big dope. He could be friends with anyone, and he always gave you the impression that he had all the time in the world.
They made their way to the elevator, Dearka casting irritated glances at the OMNI Lieutenant Commander who continued to follow just half a step behind. When the elevator arrived, he jabbed the button for the flight deck, hoping fruitlessly that the elevator doors would close before the other could enter.
"Careful, there." La Fllaga slid neatly through the closing elevator doors and made himself comfortable against the opposite wall. He returned Dearka's scowl with the world-encompassing grin that never left his face. A few floors went by before he asked, "How're your living arrangements?", all casual-like.
Dearka shrugged back. "Fine."
"Getting along all right with your roommates?"
La Fllaga chuckled. "I have a favor to ask you, actually."
Dearka peered at him with suspicion. "Yeah?" La Fllaga's eyes twinkled.
"Would you lighten up on Private Falker a bit? His reports are fun to read, but they're getting a bit too long. I'd rather you not cause him to neglect his other duties."
Dearka crossed his arms and gave La Fllaga a steady look. He saw both smugness and camaraderie on the OMNI officer's face, and Dearka was hard put to decide which of the two he was feeling himself. "I'll work on it," he said.
The elevator stopped. La Fllaga threw Dearka an acknowledging salute and exited first.
"So, does Kira give you regular updates on his friend?" Dearka asked, as they glided down the hallway to the docking bay.
"Nah. For one, Kira doesn't report to us anymore. And we see Athrun every day anyway, so there isn't any need." He slid his ID though the card lock check and announced the two of them. The only good thing about having the OMNI officer here, Dearka reflected, was not having to do the elaborate ID check he had to go through each time he visited the docking bay on his own.
Then again, Dearka could see the point in it. If they offered him an ID card, he'd probably be able to use it to break the high-security codes within a week. If he were to work together with Athrun, it'd only take a few days. Assuming Athrun would be willing to do it. You never knew with him. What Dearka called self-preservation Athrun Zala might very well interpret in his skewed brain as a breaking of trust.
"So in other words, you trust Athrun Zala?" Dearka said. He wasn't surprised, exactly. Athrun was after all well-connected to the Archangel's star pilot.
La Fllaga raised an eyebrow. He looked amused. "You two don't talk to each other much, do you?"
Dearka remembered the mysterious words Athrun had said to him yesterday outside the cafeteria, after retrieving the note Dearka had prepared for Brenning.
"By the way, watch yourself if Mwu La Fllaga asks you questions."
He wondered suddenly about the meaning of that. He had assumed it to be a warning that the Lieutenant Commander might ask for military secrets. He had blown off the warning, not needing Athrun's condescension. Whether as part of ZAFT or otherwise, Dearka's first loyalty was still to PLANT.
"For your information, no, Athrun is not under formal surveillance," La Fllaga answered. "On the other hand, every single person on the bridge watches him like a hawk. And off the bridge, well... If he ever betrays Kira, I don't think he'll be easily forgiven this time -- least of all by himself."
Despite his general policy against thinking about things that had nothing to do with himself, Dearka found himself putting this statement in his to-think-about-later inbox. Even in the EA, Mwu La Fllaga couldn't have become a Lieutenant Commander on good looks alone.
"Well, here we are." La Fllaga accompanied the words with a clap on the shoulder that would no doubt leave a bruise. "You go check on your baby. Mine's right here." La Fllaga stopped at the innermost port by the door. Dearka was confused at the absence of the height of an MS there, until he recognized the occupying craft as an MA.
"What's happened to the Strike?"
"Nothing. But I'm here to see the Zero today. She's a special one. Last of her kind." La Fllaga smiled with all the look of a proud father.
Beside him, Dearka looked disparagingly at the pile of orange scrapmetal. So this was a functioning Mobile Armor. It didn't look much better than the wrecked ones Dearka had seen. To Coordinators, MAs were a joke. Low manueverability, inflexible weaponry, and no style to speak of.
Inflexible and stupid. That sure explained why Athrun got the half-MA Aegis, all right.
Just as Dearka was about to leave the Natural pilot and his craft be, however, something about the MA spiked his attention.
Dearka found himself staring, the memory coming suddenly hot and sharp: The feeling of space and the smell of electronics and leather, and the flickering screen capturing movement at the corner of his eye...
The enemy MA. The blasted pile of scrap that had managed to wreak havoc, always just escaping Dearka's grasp.
"You're the pilot of that... that thing?" he demanded.
Mwu looked unenlightened to the nuclear explosion shaking through Dearka. "Sure."
Dearka was stupefied. It had never sat well with him that he was being continually beaten by a Natural, but having the fact thrown in his face like this was just too much.
"I thought you piloted Strike." But of course, that didn't make sense, because Kira had piloted Strike. Which meant that before Kira got the Freedom, La Fllaga had flown the MA. Which meant that he was... Dearka's rival.
His rival. It sounded so hollow now.
Although they hadn't known each other's names, Kira had been Yzak's proclaimed rival. Dearka had assumed the rivalry would continue until the pilot of Strike was finally killed. But now that Dearka had met Kira Yamato, he couldn't imagine Yzak pitting himself against the kid.
As for himself and the MA pilot...
Dearka watched from a sort of void as La Fllaga began talking it up with the chief mechanic. He watched as the handsome harmless-seeming man laughed at something the mechanic said and made a gesture of joking defensiveness. The mechanic threw an oil-stained towel at him in response. A few more exchanges later, La Fllaga waved his thanks and came back to where Dearka stood, seeming not at all surprised to see him.
"You want a spin?" he asked, before Dearka could think of an excuse for still being there. "I'm taking her out for a test flight."
Dearka stared, agape. "You're offering me a ride in your MA? Isn't that... against regulations?" As if he wanted to get into that scrapheap, anyway.
La Fllaga put a hand on his chin, as if he had not considered such a thing. "I guess it could be a little problematical, since you are a civilian."
"I'm not a civilian," Dearka responded hotly. Civilian equalled useless, naive, and any other number of things that he did not want to identify himself with.
La Fllaga squinted at him. "Well, either you're a defected soldier, i.e. a civilian, or else you're a ZAFT MS pilot." He shrugged. "In which case I would have to arrest you right now for infiltrating the docking bay of the Archangel."
"Yeah, right," Dearka scoffed. "You and what army?"
La Fllaga lifted an eyebrow. "You don't find me a threat?"
"Of course not. You Naturals are all weak -- and too soft-hearted."
The Lieutenant Commander frowned, and in one startlingly smooth motion he had whipped out what looked like a modified nine-millimeter Gran-Chezar and was aiming it squarely at Dearka's chest.
"Would even an elite ZAFT soldier care to bet his life on that statement?"
Dearka faltered. The man hadn't sounded like he was being serious, but it was hard to tell with him. The look in his eyes made Dearka wish that he had put a few more hours into hand-to-hand combat.
With a jolt, it became clear that this here was the Hawk of Endymion that had destroyed five GINN in the space of a few minutes at the Grimaldi Front. Dearka had forgotten a very important fact: Coordinators had naturally enhanced talents compared to Naturals. A Natural with exceptional skill could conceivably beat a Coordinator in one specialized area.
"Are you an enemy of this ship?" La Fllaga pressed.
Dearka had to lick his lips before replying. The Hawk's gunhand tightened at the slight movement. Dearka froze. Then he straightened and stood firm. "No," he answered. He wasn't Athrun. He did not shoot at people he knew.
"Good." A beat. "And what will you do if we fight against ZAFT?"
Dearka frowned. That was just the type of question that it never did any good to think about until the situation came up. It was also just the type of question that someone like Athrun Zala or Nicol Amarfi would obssess over. He straightened, ignoring the barrel of the gun pointed at him.
"When that happens, I'll do what I have to." He recognized La Fllaga's power, but Dearka never did let intimidation dictate his actions. If La Fllaga was going to kill him for his actions later, then he might as well kill Dearka now and save the both of them some trouble.
La Fllaga hmm-ed. "In other words, you may decide to side with ZAFT after all."
Dearka noted the warning tone in the Lieutenant Commander's voice. Nevertheless, he replied, "Maybe."
"Thank you for being honest." Both gun and the intense look disappeared as quickly as they had come.
Dearka shrugged. It wasn't as if he had made a decision to be honest to these people. He said as much, and La Fllaga chuckled. "Right. Sorry about that. I just need to know I can trust you."
"Aiming a gun at me hardly induces me to tell the truth," Dearka couldn't help but comment.
"True." La Fllaga grinned. "Just one more question, then, sans the weaponry."
Dearka studied him. "Shoot." Dearka was pleased to notice that the pun was not lost on the Natural officer. Yzak and Athrun tended to give him disgusted looks at these sort of jokes. Nicol, though, despite never really getting along with Dearka, had had an unfortunate weakness for one-liners that Dearka had enjoyed exploiting.
Remembering the green-haired boy made it all the more sobering when La Fllaga next asked,
"What will you do if we find ourselves fighting your fellows? Would you shoot down the Duel pilot if that was the only way to forward our cause?"
Dearka's response was immediate. "No."
"No?" The Lieutenant Commander's gaze was uncommonly serious.
"That would never happen." It pained him to say it but, "Athrun will give you the same answer if you ask him."
La Fllaga put one hand to his chin in the classic I-am-handsome-and-I-am-thinking pose.
"Excuse me if I'm wrong, but you don't strike me as someone who respects Athrun's opinion very much."
Dearka snorted. "Athrun is an idiot," he said. "But even idiots are right about some things." Besides, when it really came down to it, there had never been any doubt in Dearka's mind that Athrun and he were standing on the same line.
La Fllaga threw his head back and laughed. "All right, I get it," he said. He nodded. "I think we already have ample proof that asking friends to fight each other does not lead to good results."
Dearka snorted again. La Fllaga obviously had a thing for understatements.
"So, can I ride your MA or not?" he said, turning to the orange monstrosity with a critical eye. He figured it was worth trying. Who knows? It might even be fun.
"If you don't mind risking Security, sure. Of course, combat personnel is so low on this ship, I'll bet we couldn't afford to lock you up again anyhow."
Dearka didn't know whether to smirk or to sigh at this intelligence.
"I'll be fine," he said. "Members of the Klueze squad don't scare easily."
"Hm, yes. I guess they wouldn't, would they?" Dearka recalled that La Fllaga and Klueze had a rivalry of their own. The way La Fllaga had said that, however, he had the strangest impression that La Fllaga might know Commander Klueze on a personal level.
Dearka shrugged mentally.
The war was much too complicated as it was. He for one did not need anything more to think about.
"Well then, let's go," he said. Without waiting for permission, he leapt up the boarding ladder and landed himself in the co-pilot's chair.
The OMNI officer looked up at him with an expression of straightforward amusement, one that Dearka shared. He stomped off the floor, flying up in the low-grav of the docking bay and landing solidly into the cockpit. He moved with a flair and a sense of assurance that Dearka found himself vowing to imitate -- and surpass.
The Hawk of Endymion turned in his seat and flashed his trade-mark grin. "Don't forget," he said, tossing Dearka a spare helmet. "Safety first."